Thursday, December 9, 2010
A whistleblower says Sheriff Mike Kanalakis retaliated against her because she has drawn attention to alleged mishandling of evidence at the Sheriff’s Office crime lab.
Georgine Scott-Codiga, who as a forensic evidence technician has collected physical evidence at crime scenes and analyzed fingerprints in the Sheriff’s lab for six years, is fighting back with a federal lawsuit against Kanalakis, the county and the Sheriff’s Office.
“I’m just saddened by the way this whole thing has been handled,” Scott-Codiga says. “People make mistakes but it’s not right when you cover them up.”
In a complaint filed Dec. 1, Scott-Codiga alleges that after reporting her concerns to Sheriff Kanalakis and other county officials, including District Attorney staffers and County Supervisor Jane Parker, she was harassed, ostracized and subject to an unfair Internal Affairs investigation.
Sheriff-elect Scott Miller has promised a full review of the Sheriff’s Office, including the crime lab and the evidence room when he puts on the badge Jan. 3.
Miller says he isn’t pre-judging anything. He wants the review to establish a baseline and to know how the lab is operating.
“That’s what needs to be done,” Scott-Codiga says. “It should have been done a long time ago.”
Chief Assistant Deputy District Attorney Terry Spitz says he’s asked Scott-Codiga if anyone had been improperly charged with a crime because of the problems she raised, and says she couldn’t cite any.
But Scott-Codiga contends carelessness in the crime lab could jeopardize criminal cases.
For example, she says, all fingerprint identifications must be verified by two other lab technicians. In one case, Scott-Codiga says she caught an error by a co-worker on a suspect’s fingerprint ID. Her co-worker corrected the mistake, but noted on the report that Scott-Codiga had verified the correction when she says she had not. A warrant has been issued for the suspect in that case, and it has not yet come to court.
What’s more, Scott-Codiga says lab technicians must make a note each time they handle physical evidence because both the defense and prosecution have the right to know it hasn’t been tampered with. But she says in the Sheriff’s Office crime lab, it is not always clear who’s handled evidence and where it has been because the documentation is sometimes incomplete.
Monterey County Public Defender Jim Egar says his office is now reviewing its cases to determine which ones might be affected by Scott-Codiga’s revelations.
“We’re on the lookout for new cases with evidence from the Sheriff’s crime lab,” Egar says. “It’s clearly going to have an impact that’s going to require a greater showing by the prosecution.”
Egar says physical evidence in the majority of his cases is sent to the state crime lab for analysis, not the Sheriff’s Office.
If defense attorneys put up a fight over evidence issues and the DA’s office begins losing cases, Spitz says his office could refuse to file cases investigated by the Sheriff’s Office. But he says that so far, it’s not an issue.
“We asked our deputies whether they’d noticed any problems and the answer we got back was ‘no,’” Spitz says.
Sheriff’s spokesman Cmndr. Mike Richards argues that the allegations are baseless.
“While we’re understaffed and overworked, the work of the crime lab has never come into question,” Richards says. “Our chain of custody is sound.”